Online hatred. The case of Mary Beard

It was a quiet, ordinary night on 17 of February, when Mary Beard, a professor of classical studies in the university of Cambridge, posted a photo of herself on Twitter. This would act would be of none significance in the age of online social networks and selfies. Instead, the photo was not a usual one, since it was showing her crying. What was the reason that incited Mary Beard to share a so unconventional photo and what was actually the reason she was crying?

Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για Mary Beard crying

A few minutes earlier, the professor which counts over than 20.000 followers on Instagram, was the victim of a bullying assault online. The storm of negative and venomous comments had broken in after Mary Beard had made a comment online, considering the Oxfam Haiti scandal and the United Nations implication on prostitutes sexual exploitation and abuse. Her comment was:

“Of course one can’t condone the (alleged) behaviour of Oxfam staff in Haiti and elsewhere. But I do wonder how hard it must be to sustain “civilised” values in a disaster zone. And overall I still respect those who go in to help out, where most of us would not tread.”

The comment of the prominent professor was interpreted as Beard excusing the alleged sexual abuse of women and girls, and many took it as an opportunity to abuse Beard. Among the furious comments was that from fellow Cambridge academic Priyamvada Gopal, who tweeted that “this kind of thing is the progressive end of the institutional culture I have to survive day in day out” and “Cambridge desperately needs a Breaking the Silence on racism. About time and beyond.”  In a following tweet Dr Gopal satirised Prof Beard, writing: “Obviously it’s not a great idea to randomly get your d**k out, rape people etc. But it’s not easy to be politically correct while in s**tholes. And overall I still respect people who head out to s**tholes ‘cos I sure as hell wouldn’t dream of it’.”d”.

In a second tweet Mary Beard posted the aforementioned photo of herself saying she was left “sitting here crying”, and wrote in her blog about the fierce criticism she had experienced.

Such constant barrages of abuse, including death threats and sexual offending are quite often in social media platforms. According to a 2017 survey conducted by Maeve Duggan, roughly four-in-ten Americans have personally experienced online harassment, and 62% consider it a major problem. Why Social media platforms are an especially fertile ground for online harassment, and what lies behind the transformation of “fair” people to furious online trollers?

Simon Lindgren, professor of Sociology and author of the book “Digital Media & Society” seeds some light on human online behavior. Hosting the opinions of prominent researchers among whom Citron’s, who has written that “that people are more inclined towards antisocial behaviour, and joining bigoted mobs, when interaction happens online – relatively anonymously, asynchronously, and so on”, Simon Lindgren makes an interesting approach on online hatred, finalizing his approach with a reference to the so-called Garnergate controversy in late 2014.

Speaking specifically on Garnergate case, Citron has argued that at some point, it is difficult for the system to control criminal liability in internet hatred storms, where there’s such a huge number of actors. Mary’s Beard case is undoubtfully such a case.

Sources:

  1. Simon Lindgren, “Digital Media and Society”, 2017, Sage Publications
  2. “Why nice people become mean online”, 2018, article, by Gaia Vince, Mosaic, published in https://edition.cnn.com/2018/04/03/health/good-people-bad-online-partner/index.html

“Augmented Reality”. The opium of the stupids.

“Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.” Starting with the prophetic words of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, written centuries before, we should ask ourselves if the chains may be even harder to see in the 21st century, in a world dominated by flashing mobile phones and social media.

Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. Posting. Commenting. And then scrolling again. People on trains, on cafes, on the bus queues, at dinner tables, at the bar, with heads bended to look down their cell phones, like bowing to the god of technology. Scrolling as if there is no tomorrow. The success of web 2.0 is that it keeps people constantly busy, creating an intense fear of missing out on something important or urgent. Peoples’ lives, identities, all zipped in a cell phone. Take a minute to download other peoples’ lives, consume every bite of their existence. Consume and get consumed. As life passes by, it’s hard to distinguish if your memories are what you have experienced yourself or whether they are second hand experiences, seen from a cell phones’ screen. Meditation or mediation? Human contact, human gestures, have been replaced by the finger gestures.

Augmented reality is a huge buzzword right now, as the new ecosystems are getting prepared for the masses by developers and marketers. They talk about something big, that will surpass the limitations of time and space giving the freedom to experience a new visual public space filled with information. Technology giants as Facebook and Google, Apple and Amazon, have already invested billions on the affordances of the new technology, smoothing the ground for walking in the new digital era. But what they tell is right now, is that they want us to listen? Augmented reality will be the biggest fiasco in human history and I will explain why.

 Social media have already stretched the limits of human information processing capabilities. Since a few people have started realizing that information overdose has ruined their lives converting them to zombies, I doubt if there is left space for more information. The supporters of augmented reality describe the augmented digital space as a promise land, where information will be transfused on what you see, giving the freedom of walking through places like browsing. Actually, such spaces have already been created, Pokemon Go is a such place. But why information seen through your glasses or your lenses or your bionic eyes, watched like advertising supers, is so important? What’s the point of getting all these information, seeing everything in life as for granted? Where is the mystery that enforces humans in terms of exploring things by themselves instead of reading prearranged informational texts as guidelines? Who will control this information? And why is it important to see in real time where is the closest to me MacDonalds store instead of googling it on my cellphone in a few seconds? Are we really so busy or are we supposed to be so busy that we shouldn’t spare a second? What’s the point of buying our vacation package software that will travel us on places all over the world instead of being there? If we consider travelling as information, as splendid visuals, where is the human interaction, the places aromas, the local foods taste, the senses that accompany a journey? Where is the journey through the journey?  Did Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal make us a little bit more suspicious about the fact of experiencing our lives and behaving in life like other people want, or it was just another break news story that has started fading away?

As Goffman suggested in his dramaturgical analysis of social interaction, we people are performers in life. The appalling fact about augmented reality is that we will be performers guided with autocue texts, as prompters. Take a minute to think. Does augmented reality entail practical affordances or will it serve marketers’ profit plans? Would Facebook, Instagram and other platforms exist if their use didn’t entail huge profits for them? This is not an easy to answer question, since every media, even the traditional ones as newspapers radio and tv entail a great deal of profits for the owners. The difference lies to the pervasion of technology and human overexploitation for the profit. Imagine a word through augmented reality where every information seen will appear as a sponsored ad. The marketing gurus have realized that augmented reality will be the holy grail of communication in terms of linking profits to everything we see. But seeing technology through marketers’ eyes, is it the way we want our lives to be seen?

The capture of Facebook data didn’t start with Cambridge Analytica. In 2012, the Guardian ran a story about how an application developed by Blue State Digital company was launched to boost Obama’s presidential run. I guess there are thousands other scandals that we will never get to know. The most scary is that people know that their data are used but pretend as they don’t know. How many of your friends or your friends’ friends quitted Facebook after Cambridge Analytica scandal went public?

The augmented reality will put the whole life users’ personal data at stake. Every move will be monitored for marketing analysis purposes. Will we give our permission for this? I am not quite sure.

There is another reason why I believe augmented reality will fail. The marketing gurus are so absorbed with profitable technological affordances that they cannot see the forest for the trees. They can’t see the human needs. They treat humans like machines. They can’t realize that we humans have limitations in information processing and that an overflow of information would presumably lead to brain over-burn. They can’t realize that people may wouldn’t like being bombarded with information constantly, as relaxation is a crucial part of brain health. That information perceived without technological mediations are already huge. Humanity’s masterpieces, Plato’s symposium for instance is an overburn itself.

Technology is good to the extend that it gives access to useful information. Otherwise, it’s value is as ephemeral as the thousands of applications we download in our cell phones and the next moment we get rid of. People will always prefer living their life through their senses. A book printed on paper will always be preferable comparing to an e-pub book. A Beatle’s recorded song of bad quality recording will always be more inspiring than the most technologically perfect recordings of today. Didn’t you once think that technology would bring vinylium to extinction? However, the current turn into vinylium proves that technology is not perceived always as marketers think. The google glasses proved to be an embarrassing failure. People will never feel comfortable with the idea of being recorded by someone who wears Google glasses in the next table.

Finally, augmented reality if it ever prevails, it will be the opium of the poor, the opium of the stupids. Those who will have the money will always have access to real experiences. The others will travel to places through technological tools and feed their fantasies with virtual-augmented reality porn. With what side you want to be?

The choice is yours.